It was as Harry had suspected it would be: beyond the Mobius doors he discovered the Primal Darkness itself, that darkness which existed before the universe began.
It was not only the absence of light but the absence of everything. He might be at the core of a black hole, except a black hole has enormous gravity and this place had none. In one sense it was a metaphysical plane of existence, but in another it was not - because nothing existed here. It was simply a 'place', but a place in which no God as yet had uttered those wonderful words of evocation, 'Let there be light!'
It was nowhere, and it was everywhere; it was both central and external. From here one might go anywhere, or go nowhere for ever. And it would be for ever, for in this timeless environment nothing ever aged or changed, except by force of will. Harry Keogh was therefore a foreign body, an unwanted mote in the eye of the Mobius continuum, and it must try to reject him. He felt matter-less forces working on him even now, pushing at him and attempting to dislodge him from the unreal back into the real. Except he must not let himself be pushed.
There were doors he could conjure, certainly, a million million doors leading to all places and all times, but he knew that most of these places and times would be totally lethal to him. No use, like Mobius, to emerge in some distant galaxy in deep space. Harry was not merely a creature of mind but also of matter. He had no desire to freeze, or fry, or melt, or explode.
The problem, then, was this: which door?
Harry's dive through Mobius' tombstone might have
carried him a yard or a light-year, he might have been here for a minute or a month, when he felt the first tentative tug of a force other than the rejection forces of this hyperspace-time dimension. Not even a tug, as such, it was more a gentle pressure that seemed to want to guide him. He'd known something like it before, when he'd tracked his mother under the ice and come up in her pool beneath the overhanging bank. There seemed nothing of a threat in it, anyway.
Harry went with it, following it and feeling it intensify, homing in on it as a blind man homes in on a friendly voice. Or a moth on the bright flame of a candle? No, for his intuition told him that whatever it was there was no harm in it. Stronger still the force bobbed him along this parallel space-time stream, and like seeing a light at the end of a tunnel, so he sensed the way ahead and began to will himself in that direction.
'Good!' said a distant voice in Harry's head. 'Very good. Come to me, Harry Keogh, come to me...'
It was a female voice, but there was little of warmth in it. Thin, it keened like the wind in the Leipzig graveyard, and like the wind it was old as the ages.
'Who are you?' Harry asked.
'A friend,' came the answer, stronger now.
Harry continued to will himself towards the mental voice. He willed himself... that way. And there before him, a Mobius door. He reached for it, paused. 'How do I know you're a friend? How do I know I can trust you?'
'I asked that same question once,' said the voice, almost in his ear. 'For I too had no way of knowing. But I trusted.'
Harry willed the door open and passed through.
Stretched out in his original dive, he found himself suspended maybe three inches above the ground, and fell - then clung to the earth and hugged himself to it. The
voice in his head chuckled. 'There,' it said. 'You see? A friend...'
Dizzy and feeling sick, Harry gradually withdrew his fingers from loose, dry soil. He lifted his head a fraction, stared all about. Light and colour struck almost physical blows on his reeling vision. Light and warmth. That was the first impression to really get through to him: how warm it was. The soil was warm under his prone body, the sun unseasonally warm where it shone on his neck and his hands. Where on God's earth was he? Was he on Earth at all?
Slowly, still dizzy, he sat up. And gradually, as he felt gravity working on him, so things stopped revolving and he uttered a loud 'Phew!' of relief.
Harry wasn't much travelled or he'd have recognised the terrain at once as being Mediterranean. The soil was a yellowy-brown and streaked with sand, the plants were those of scrubland, the sun's warmth in January told of his proximity to the equator. Certainly he was thousands of miles closer to it here than he'd been in Leipzig. In the distance a mountain range threw up low peaks; closer there were ruins, crumbling white walls and mounds of rubble; and overhead -
A pair of jet fighter planes, like speeding silver darts against the pure blue of the sky, left vapour trails as they hastened towards the horizon. Their thunder rolled down over him, muted by distance.
Harry breathed easier, looked again towards the ruins. Middle-Eastern? Probably. Just some ancient village fallen victim to Nature's grand reclamation scheme. And again he wondered where he was.
'Endor,' said the voice in his head. 'That was its name when it had a name. It was my home.'
Endor? That rang a bell. The biblical Endor? The place where Saul went on the night before his death on
the slopes of Gilboa? Where he went to seek out - a witch?
'That is what they called me, aye,' she chuckled dryly in his mind. 'The Witch of Endor. But that was long and long ago, and there have been witches and witches. Mine was a great talent, but now a greater one is come into the world. In my long sleep I heard of him, this mighty wizard, and such were the rumours that they awakened me. The dead call him their friend and there are those among the living who fear him greatly. Aye, and I desired to speak with this one, who is already a legend among the tomb-legions. And lo! - I called and he came to me. And his name is Harry Keogh...'
Harry stared at the earth where he sat, put down his hands and pressed upon it. His hands came away dusty and dry. 'You're... here?' he said.
'I am one with the dust of the world,' she answered. 'My dust is here.'
Harry nodded. Two thousand years is a long time. 'Why did you help me?' he asked.
'Would you have me damned for ever by all the teeming dead?' she answered at once. 'Why did I help you? Because they asked it of me! All of them! Your fame precedes you, Harry. "Save this one!" they begged me, "for he is beloved of us.'"
Again Harry nodded. 'My mother,' he said.
'Your mother is but one,' answered the witch. 'She is your chief advocate, certainly, but the dead are many. She pleaded for you, aye, and many a thousand with her.'
Harry was astonished. 'I don't know thousands,' he said. 'I know a dozen, two dozen at most.'
Again her chuckle, long, dry and mirthless. 'But they know you! And how may I ignore my brothers and sisters in the earth?'
'You wish to help me?'
'Do you know what I have to do?'
'Others have informed me, aye.'
'Then give me whatever aid you can - if you can. Frankly, and while I don't wish to seem ungrateful, I don't see how there's a lot you can do.'
'Oh? But I controlled some of these same powers you control two thousand years ago. And are my arts forgotten? A king came to me for help, Harry Keogh!'
'Saul? Little good it did him,' said Harry, but not unkindly.
'He asked me to show him his future,' she answered defensively, 'and I showed him.'
'And can you show me mine?'
'Your future?' she was silent for a moment. Then: 'I have already looked upon your future, Harry, but of that ask me not.'
'That bad, eh?'
'There are deeds to be performed,' she answered, 'and wrongs to be righted. If I were to show you what will be, it would not make you strong for the task ahead. Like Saul, perhaps you too would faint away upon the earth.'
'I'm going to lose...' Harry's heart sank.
'Something of you shall be lost.'
Harry shook his head. 'I don't like the sound of that. Can't you say more?'
'I will not say more.'
'Then perhaps you'll help me with the Mobius dimen­sion. I mean, how may I find my way about in it? I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't guided me out of there.'
'But I know nothing of this thing,' she answered, obviously puzzled. 'I called to you and you heard me. Why not let them also guide you who love you?'
Was that possible? Harry thought it probably was. 'At
least that's something,' he said. 'I can give it a try. Now, how else can you help me?'
'For Saul the king,' she answered, 'I called up Samuel. Now there are also some who would speak to you. Let me be the medium of their messages.'
'But it's self-evident I can speak to the dead for myself!' he said.
'But not to these three,' she answered, 'for you know them not.'
'Very well, let me speak to them.'
'Harry Keogh,' a new voice now whispered in his head, a soft voice that belied the once-cruelty of its master. 'I saw you one time and you saw me. My name is Max Batu.'
Harry gasped, spat his disgust on to the sand. 'Max Batu? You're no friend of mine,' he scowled. 'You killed Keenan Gormley!' Then he thought about who he was speaking to. 'But you? Dead? I don't understand.'
'Dragosani killed me,' the other told him. 'He did it to steal my talent with his necromancy. He slit my throat and gutted me, and left my body to rot. Now he has the evil eye. I make no pretence of being your friend, Harry Keogh, but I'm much less a friend of his. I tell you this because it might help you to kill him - before he kills you. It is my revenge!'
And as Max Batu's voice faded, another took its place:
'I was Thibor Ferenczy,' it said, its timbre sad and soulful. 'I could have lived for ever. I was a vampire, Harry Keogh, but Dragosani destroyed me. I was undead; now I am merely dead.'
A vampire! Just such a creature had cropped up in Gormley's and Kyle's word-association game. Kyle had seen a vampire in Harry's future. But: 'I can hardly condemn Dragosani for killing a vampire!' he said.
'I don't want you to condemn him,' the voice grew harsh in a moment, shedding its sorrow like a worn-out
snakeskin. 'I want you to kill him! I want the lying, cheating, illegitimate necromantic dog dead, dead, dead! - like me! And I know he will be dead -1 know you will kill him - but only with my help. Only if you'll... bargain with me?'
'Do not, Harry!' the Witch of Endor warned him. 'Satan himself is no match for a vampire where lies and deceit are concerned.'
'No bargains,' Harry took her point.
'But it is such a small thing I want!' Thibor protested, his mental voice growing into a whine.
'Only promise me that now and then - once in a while, be it ever so long - when you have the time, then that you'll speak to me. For there are none so lonely as I am now, Harry Keogh.'
'Very well. I promise.'
The ex-vampire sighed his relief. 'Good! And now I know why the dead love you. Now know this, Harry: Dragosani has a vampire in him! The creature is still immature, but it grows fast and learns even faster. And do you know how to kill a vampire?'
'A wooden stake?'
'That is only to pin him down. But then you must behead him!'
'I'll remember that,' Harry nodded, nervously licking dry lips.
'And remember too your promise,' said Thibor, his voice fading into nothing. For a moment then it was silent and Harry was left to think about the awesome nature of this composite creature he'd pitted himself against; but then, out of the silence, he heard the voice of the third and last informer:
'Harry Keogh,' growled this final visitation, 'you don't know me, but Sir Keenan Gormley may have told you something of me. I was Gregor Borowitz. Now I am no
more. Dragosani killed me with Max Batu's evil eye. I am dead in my prime, by treachery!'
'So you too seek revenge,' said Harry. 'Had he no friends, this Dragosani? Not even one?'
'Yes, he had me. I had plans for Dragosani, great plans. Ah, but the bastard had plans of his own! And I wasn't part of them. He killed me for my knowledge of E-Branch, so that he can control what I created. But it goes farther than that. I think he wants - everything! I mean literally everything under the sun. And if he lives he might very well get everything, eventually.'
There came a great mental shudder from Borowitz. 'You see, he's not finished with me yet. My body lies in my dacha where he left it, but sooner or later it will be delivered into his hands, and then he'll deal with me as he dealt with Max Batu. I don't want that, Harry. I don't want that scum wading through my guts in search of my secrets!'
Something of his horror .transmitted itself to Harry, but still the necroscope could feel no pity for him. 'I under­stand your motivation,' he said, 'but if he hadn't killed you I would have. If I could. For my mother, for Keenan Gormley, for everyone you've hurt or would hurt.'
'Yes, yes, of course you would,' said Borowitz without enmity, 'if you could. I was a soldier before I was a schemer, Harry Keogh. I understand honour even if Dragosani doesn't. It's because of all these things that I want to help you.'
'I accept your reasons,' said Harry. 'How can you help me?'
'First I can tell you all I know about the Chateau Bronnitsy: its design and layout, the people who work there. Here, take it all,' and he quickly imparted to Harry all knowledge of the place and of the ESPers who worked there. 'And then I can tell you something else, something
which you, with your special talent, can use to good advantage. I've said I was first a soldier. So I was, and my knowledge of warfare was second to none. I had studied the entire history of warfare from Man's begin­nings. I had traced his wars right across the face of the planet, and knew all the old battlefields intimately. You ask how I can help you? Well listen and I'll tell you.'
Harry listened, and slowly his strange eyes opened wider and a grim smile spread itself across his face. He had been weary until now, burdened. But now a massive weight was lifted from his shoulders. He did have a chance, after all. Finally Borowitz was finished.
'Well, we were enemies,' said Harry then, 'even though we never met in the flesh. But I thank you anyway. You know of course that I intend to destroy your organisation as well as Dragosani?'
'No more than he'd destroy it,' the other growled. 'Anyway, I have to go now. There's someone else I want to find, if I can...' And his voice, too, faded into silence.
Harry looked at the rugged terrain all around and saw how the sun dipped lower in the sky. Dust devils raced along a ridge. Kites wheeled in the sky as the day turned towards evening. And for a long while, as the shadows lengthened, he sat there on the sand and pebbles with his chin in his hands, just thinking.
At last he said, 'They all want to help me.'
'Because you bring them hope,' the Witch of Endor told him. 'For centuries, indeed since time itself began, the dead have lain still in their graves and that was that. But now they stir, they seek each other out, they talk to each other in a manner you have taught them. They have found a champion. Only ask of them, Harry Keogh, and they will obey...'
Harry stood up, gazed all around, felt the chill of evening beginning to creep. 'I see no reason to stay here
any longer,' he said. 'As for you, old lady: I don't know how to thank you.'
'I have all the thanks I want,' she answered. The teeming dead thank me.'
He nodded. 'Yes, and there are some of them I want to speak to-first.'
'Go then,' she answered. 'The future waits for you as it waits for all men.'
Harry said no more but conjured the Mobius doors, chose one and walked through it.
He went first to his mother, finding his way to her without difficulty; then to 'Sergeant' Graham Lane at Harden, including a quick jump of only fifty yards or so to the grave of James Gordon Hannant; then to a Garden of Repose in Kensington, where Keenan Gormley's ashes had been scattered, but where Gormley himself remained; and finally to Gregor Borowitz's dacha in Zhukovka. He spent perhaps ten to fifteen minutes in each location with the exception of the last. It was one thing to talk to dead men in their graves but quite another to talk to one who sat there and looked at you with glassy, pus-dripping eyes.
In any case, by the time Harry was through he was satisfied that he knew his business, that he could now safely negotiate the intricacies of the Mobius continuum; and by then there was only one place left to go. But first he took down a double-barrelled shotgun from the wall and filled his pockets with cartridges from a drawer.
It was just 6:30 p.m. East European time when he started to ride the Mobius strip from Zhukovka to the Chateau Bronnitsy. Along the way he became aware that someone rode the strip with him, knew he wasn't alone in the Mobius continuum. 'Who's there?' he called out with his mind in the ultimate darkness of the journey.
'Just another dead man,' came the answer, but in a
voice wry and humourless. 'In my life I read the future, but I had to die to understand and finally realise the full extent of my talent. Strangely, in your "now" I am still alive, but I shall be dead shortly.'
'I don't understand,' said Harry.
'I didn't expect you to understand immediately. I'm here to explain. My name is Igor Vlady. I worked for Borowitz. I made the mistake of reading my own future, my own death. That will happen two days from your "now", as a result of Boris Dragosani's ordering it. But after death I will go on to explore my own potential. What I did in life I will do even better in death. If I wanted to I could see backward to the beginning of time, or go forward to its end - if time had a beginning and an end. But of course it has not; it is all a part of the Mobius continuum, an endlessly twisting loop containing all space and time. Let me show you:'
And he showed Harry the doors into the future and the past, and Harry stood on their thresholds and viewed time that had been and time still to come; except that he could not understand what he saw. For beyond the future-time door all was a chaos of millions of lines of blue light, and one of these streamed from his own being out through the door and into the future - his future. Likewise beyond the past-time door: the same blue light pouring out of him and fading into the past - his past - along with the light of countless millions of others. And such was the dazzling blue brilliance of all those life-threads that he was almost blinded by it.
'But no light shines from you,' he said to Igor Vlady. 'Why is that?'
'Because my light has been extinguished. Now I am like Mobius: pure mind. And where space holds no secrets for him, time holds none for me.'
Harry thought about it, said: 'I want to see my life-thread again.' And again he stood on the threshold of the door to the future. He looked into the bright blue furnace of the future and saw his life-thread shimmering into it like a neon ribbon, and he could see it clearly where it curved away into future time. But even as he watched, so the end of his thread of life came into view; and then it seemed to him that the blue life-light of his body was not flowing out of him but flowing in! The thread was being eaten up by him as he approached his own end! And now that end was plainly visible, speeding towards him like a meteor out of the future!
Quickly, in terror of the Unknown, he stepped back from the door and once more into darkness. 'Am I going to die?' he asked then. 'Is that what you're telling me, showing me?'
'Yes - ' said the time-travelling mind of Igor Vlady ' -and no.'
Again Harry failed to understand. 'I'm about to pass through a Mobius door to the Chateau Bronnitsy,' he said. 'If I'm going to die there I'd like to know it. The Witch of Endor told me that I would lose "something" of myself. Now I've seen the end of my life-thread.' He gave a nervous mental shrug. 'It seems I'm coming to the end of my tether...'
In answer he sensed a nod. 'But if you were to use the future-time door,' said Vlady, 'you could go on beyond the end of your thread - to where it begins again!'
'Begins again?' Harry was baffled. 'Are you saying I'm to live again?'
'There's a second thread which is also you, Harry. It lives even now. All it lacks is mind.' And Vlady explained his meaning; he read Harry's future for him, just as he once read Boris Dragosani's. Except that where Harry had a future, Dragosani had only a past. And now, at last, Harry had all the answers.
'I owe you my thanks,' he told Vlady then.
'You owe me nothing,' said Vlady.
'But you came to me just in time,' Harry insisted, little realising the significance of his words.
'Time is relative,' the other shrugged, and chuckled. 'What will be, has been!'
'Thanks, anyway,' said Harry, and passed through the door to the Chateau Bronnitsy.
At 6:31 p.m. exactly, Dragosani's telephone came janglingly alive, causing him to start.
Outside it was dark now, made darker by snow falling heavily from a black sky. Searchlights in the Chateau's outer walls and towers swept the ground between the complex itself and the perimeter wall, as they had swept it since the fall of dark, but now their beams were reduced to mere swaths of grey light whose poor penetration was of little or no consequence,
Dragosani found it annoying that vision should be so reduced, but the Chateau's defences had more going for them than human eyesight alone; there were sensitive tripwires out there, the latest electronic detection devices, even a belt of anti-personnel mines in a circle just beyond the outbuilding pill-boxes.
None of which gave Dragosani any real sensation of security; Igor Vlady's predictions had ignored all such protections. In any case, the call did not come from the pill-boxes or the fortified perimeter: the men in their defensive positions were all equipped with hand radios. This call was either external or it came from a department within the Chateau itself.
Dragosani snatched the handset from its cradle, snapped, 'Yes, what is it?'
'Felix Krakovitch,' a trembling voice answered. 'I'm down in my lab. Comrade Dragosani, there's... some­thing!' Dragosani knew the man: a seer, a minor prognosticator. His talent wasn't up to Vlady's standard by a long
shot, but neither was it to be ignored - not on this of all nights.
'Something?' Dragosani's nostrils flared. The man had put an eerie emphasis on the word. 'Make sense, Krakovitch! What's wrong?'
'I don't know, Comrade. It's just that... something's coming. Something terrible. No, it's here. It's here now!'
'What's "here"?' Dragosani snarled into the phone. 'Where, "here"?'
'Out there, in the snow. Belov feels it, too.'
'Belov?' Karl Belov was a telepath, and a good one over short distances. Borowitz had often used him at foreign embassy parties, picking up what he could from the minds of his hosts. 'Is Belov there with you now? Put him on.'
Belov was asthmatic. His voice was always soft and gasping, his sentences invariably short. Right now they were even more so: 'He's right, Comrade,' he gasped. 'There's a mind out there - a powerful mind!'
Keogh! It had to be him. 'Just one?' Dragosani's once-sensitive lips curled back from a mouthful of white daggers. His red eyes seemed to light from within. How Keogh had come here he couldn't say, but if he was alone he was a dead man - and to hell with that traitor Vlady's predictions!
On the other end of the line, Belov fought for air, struggled to find a means of expression.
'Well?' Dragosani hastened him.
'I ... I'm not sure,' said Belov. 'I thought there was only one, but now -'
'Yes?' Dragosani almost shouted. 'Damn it all! - am I surrounded by idiots? What is it, Belov? What's out there?'
Belov panted into the phone at his end, gasped, 'He's... calling. He's some sort of telepath himself, and he's calling.'
To you?' Dragosani's brows knitted in baffled frus­tration. His great nostrils sniffed suspiciously, anxiously, as if to draw the answer from the air itself.
'No, not to me. He's calling to ... to others. Oh, God - and they're beginning to answer him!'
'Who is answering him?' Dragosani barked. 'What's wrong with you, Belov? Are there traitors? Here in the Chateau.'
There came a clattering from the other end - a low moan and a thudding sound - then Krakovitch again: 'He has fainted, Comrade!'
'What?' Dragosani couldn't believe his ears. 'Belov, fainted? What the hell-?'
Lights were beginning to flicker on the call-sign panel of the radio Dragosani had had moved in here from the DO's control cell. A number of men with handsets were trying to contact him from their defensive positions. Next door Borowitz's secretary, Yul Galenski, sat nervously behind his desk, twitching as he listened to Dragosani's raging. And now the necromancer started bellowing for him:
'Galenski, are you deaf? Get in here. I need assistance!'
At that moment the DO burst in from the landing in the central stairwell. He carried weapons: stubby Kalashnikov machine-pistols. As Galenski started to his feet he said: 'You sit there. I'll go in.'
Without pause for knocking he almost ran into the other room, pulled up short, gasping, as he saw Dragosani crouched over the radio's panel of blinking lights. Drago­sani had taken his glasses off. Snarling soundlessly at the radio, he seemed more like some hunched, half-crazy beast than a man.
Still staring in astonishment at the necromancer's face, his awful eyes, the DO dumped an armful of weapons onto a chair; as he did so, Dragosani said: 'Stop gawping!' He reached out a great hand and grabbed the DO's
shoulder, dragged him effortlessly towards the radio. 'Do you know how to operate this damned thing?'
'Yes, Dragosani,' the DO gulped, finding his voice. 'They are trying to speak to you.'
'I can see that, fool!' Dragosani snapped. 'Well then, speak to them. Find out what they want.'
The DO perched himself on the edge of a steel chair in front of the radio. He took up the handset, flipped switches, said: 'This is Zero. All call-signs acknowledge, over?'
The replies came in sharp, numerical succession: 'Call-sign One, OK, over.'
Two, OK, over.'
'Three, OK, over.' And so on rapidly through fifteen call-signs. The voices were tinny and there was some static, but over and above that they all seemed a little too shrill, all contained a ragged edge of barely controlled panic.
'Zero for call-sign One, send your message, over,' said the DO.
'One: there are things out in the snow!' the answer came back at once, One's voice crackling with static and mounting excitement. 'They're closing on my position! Request permission to open fire, over?'
'Zero for One: wait, out!' snapped the DO. He looked at Dragosani. The necromancer's red eyes were open wide, like clots of blood frozen in his inhuman face.
'No!' he snarled. 'First I want to know what we're dealing with. Tell him to hold his fire and give me a running commentary.'
White-faced, the DO nodded, passed on Dragosani's order, was glad that he wasn't stuck out there in a pill­box in the snow - but on the other hand, could that be any worse than being stuck in here with the madman Dragosani?
'Zero, this is One!' One's voice crackled out of the radio, almost hysterical with excitement now. 'They're coming in a semicircle out of the snow. In a minute they'll hit the mines. But they move so ... so slowly! There! One of them stepped on a mine! It blew him to bits - but the others keep coming! They're thin, ragged -they don't make any noise. Some of them have - swords?'
'Zero for One: you keep calling them "things". Aren't they men?'
One's radio procedure went out of the window. 'Men?' his voice was completely hysterical. 'Maybe they are men, or were - once. I think I'm insane! This is unbelievable!' He tried to get a grip on himself. 'Zero, I'm alone here and there are ... many of them. I request permission to open fire. I beg you! I must protect myself...'
A white foam began to gather at the corners of Dragosani's gaping mouth where he stared at a wall-chart, checking One's location. It was an outbuilding pill-box directly below the command tower but fifty yards out from the Chateau itself. Occasionally as the snow swirled he could see its low, squat dark outline through the bullet-proof bay windows, but as yet no sign of the unknown invaders. He stared out into the snow again, and at that precise moment saw a blaze of orange fire erupt to throw the outbuilding into brief silhouette - and this time there came a low crump of an explosion as another mine was tripped.
The DO looked to him for instructions.
Tell him to describe these... things!' Dragosani snapped.
Before the DO could obey, another call-sign came up unbidden: 'Zero, this is Eleven. Fuck One! These bas­tards are all over the place! If we don't open fire now they'll be crawling all over us. You want to know what they are? I'll tell you: they're dead men!'
That was it. It was what Dragosani had feared. Keogh was here, definitely, and he was calling up the dead! But where from?
Tell them to fire at will,' he coughed the words out in a spray of froth. Tell them to cut the bastards down -whatever they are!'
The DO passed on his orders. But already, from every quarter, dull explosions were beginning to pound all around the Chateau; the harsh clatter of machine-gun fire, too. The defenders had finally used their own initiat­ive, had commenced firing almost point-blank on a zombie army that came marching inexorably through the snow.
Gregor Borowitz had not lied. He had indeed known his History of Warfare, and especially in his native land. In 1579 Moscow had been sacked by Tartars from the Crimea; there had been arguments about the division of the loot from the city; a would-be Khan had challenged the authority of his superiors; he and his splinter-group of three hundred horsemen had then been stripped of loot, rank, most of their weapons and whipped out of the city. Disgraced and scavenging where they could, they had ridden south. It had rained heavily and they had bogged down in a marshy triangle of forest where rivers overflowed their banks. There a five-hundred-strong Rus­sian force riding to the relief of the beleaguered city had come across them in the mist and rain and cut them down to a man. Their bodies had gone down in mud and mire, never to be seen again - until now.
Nor had they needed much persuasion from Harry; indeed they'd seemed merely to be waiting for him, ready at a moment's notice to fight their way free of the bitter earth where they had lain for four hundred years. Bone by bone, tatter by leathery tatter they had come up, some of them still bearing the rusted arms of yesteryear, and at Harry's command they'd moved on the Chateau Bronnitsy.
Harry had stepped out of the Mobius continuum inside the perimeter walls; the defenders of those walls, gazing outward, hadn't even seen him or the agonising emerg­ence of his long-dead army. Moreover, the machine-gun emplacements on the outer walls were pointing the wrong way; which all combined with the night and the snow to give him excellent cover.
But then there had been the tripwires and other intruder detection devices, and now there was the minefield and the inner ring of disguised pill-boxes.
For Harry none of these obstacles was any great prob­lem: they weren't even obstacles when at will he could simply step out of this universe and back into it a moment later in any room in the Chateau where he chose to reappear. But first he wanted to see how his back-up force was making out: he wanted the Chateau's defenders fully engaged in the business of protecting their own lives, not the life of Boris Dragosani.
At the moment he was down on his belly in a shallow depression, huddled behind a headless bone-and-leather thing which a moment ago had marched ahead of him towards the pill-box outbuilding where call-sign One and his machine-gunner second in command sat and gibbered through their viewing slits, firing long bursts into the wall of death which slowly bore down on them. A large percentage of Harry's army - about half of his three hundred - had emerged from the earth in this sector, and the mines were quickly taking an unfair toll of them. Even now the pill-box and its chattering gun were dealing Harry's army terrific blows.
He decided to take out the pill-box, broke open Gregor Borowitz's shotgun and slipped cartridges into the double breach.
Take me with you,' begged the Tartar who shielded
him. 'I helped sack a city once, and this is but a palace.' His skull head had been taken off by shrapnel from a landmine, but that hadn't seemed to matter much. He still held up a massive, battered iron and bronze shield, its rim dug into the cold earth, upright in the snow, using his own bones and the shield to give Harry as much cover as possible.
'No,' said Harry, shaking his head. 'There won't be much room in there and I'll need to get in and get it over with. But I'd be obliged for the use of your shield.'
Take it,' said the corpse, releasing the heavy plate from fingers of crusted bone. 'I hope it serves you well.'
A mine went off somewhere to the right, its flash turning the falling snow orange for a moment and its thunder shaking the earth. In the momentary burst of light, Harry had seen an arc of skeletal figures stumbling ever closer to the dark huddled shape of the pill-box; so had the men inside. Armour-piercing machine-gun bullets screamed in the air, blowing apart Tartar remains and coming dangerously close. For all that Harry's ancient shield was heavy, still it was rotten with rust and decay; he knew it wouldn't stop a direct hit.
'Go now!' urged the dead thing where it struggled to its bony feet and lurched forward headlessly. 'Kill some of them for me.'
Harry narrowed his eyes one last time through flurries of snow and fixed the location of the fire-spewing out­building in his mind, then rolled sideways through a Mobius door - and into the pill-box.
No time for thinking in there, and little or no room for movement. What had looked from outside like an old cowshed was in fact a cramped nest of steel plates and concrete blocks, slate-grey gunmetal and shining ammunition-belts. Grey light fought its way in through arc-of-fire and viewing slits, turning the cordite and sweat-smelling interior to a drifting smog in which call-sign One and his second in command coughed and spluttered where they worked furiously and feverishly.
Harry emerged in the tight space behind them, drop­ping his shield to the concrete floor as he swung up the loaded shotgun.
Hearing the clatter as the shield fell, both Russians turned in their steel-backed swivel chairs. They saw a white-faced youth in an overcoat cradling a shotgun, his eyes bright points of light above pinched nostrils and the grim, tight line of his mouth.
'Who - ?' gasped One. He looked like some strange, startled, waspish alien in his Chateau uniform, with his headset for antennae above goggling eyes.
'How - ?' said his second in command, his fingers automatically completing the task of fitting a new belt to the machine-gun.
Then call-sign One was scrabbling to snatch a pistol from his holster, and his second in command was coming to his feet, cursing.
Harry felt no pity for them. It was them or him. And there were plenty of others just like them to welcome them where they were going. He pulled the triggers: one for One, two for his second in command, and blew them screaming into the arms of death. The stench of hot blood quickly mingled with acrid cordite and the reek of sweat and fear, causing Harry's eyes to water. He blinked them furiously, broke open the shotgun and reloaded, found another Mobius door.
The next pill-box was the same, and the one after that. Six of them in all, they were all the same. Harry took them out in less than two minutes.
In the last one, when it was done he found the chaotic mind of one of the fresh dead defenders and calmed him. 'It's over for you now,' he said, 'but the one who brought all this about is still alive. You'd be home with your family tonight if not for him. And so would I. Now, where's Dragosani?'
'In Borowitz's office, in the tower,' said the other. 'He's turned it into the control room. There'll be others with him.'
'I expect there will,' said Harry, staring into the Rus­sian's shattered, smoking, unrecognisable face. 'Thanks.'
And then there was only one thing left to do, but Harry fancied he'd need a little help to do it.
He snapped open the clamps that held the machine-gun in place on its swivelling base, took up the heavy gun and hurled it down to the hard floor, then lifted it and threw it down again. After being dashed to the concrete three or four times the hard wooden stock splintered lengthwise, allowing Harry to break off a jagged stake with a flat base and a sharp, hardwood point.
He reached for his cartridges and found only one left, gritted his teeth and loaded the single cartridge into his shotgun. It would have to be enough. Then he pulled open the pill-box door and stepped out into the swirling snow.
In the near distance, softened by night and the fast-falling snow, the Chateau blazed with light, its searchlight beams cutting to and fro as they searched for targets. Most of Harry's army - what remained of it - was already at the walls of the Chateau itself, however, from which the staccato yammering of machine-guns now sounded unceasingly. The remaining defenders were trying to kill dead men, and they were finding it hard.
Harry looked about, saw a group of latecomers leaning into the snow as they plodded towards the beleaguered building. Eerie figures they were, gaunt scarecrow men, creaking past him in monstrous animation. But death held no fears for Harry Keogh. He stopped two of them, a pair of mummied cadavers a little less ravaged than the
rest, and offered one the hardwood stake. 'For Dragosani,' he said.
The other Tartar carried a great curving sword all scabbed with rust; Harry reckoned he'd used it in his day to devastating effect. Well, and now - with any justice -he'd use it again. He pointed to the sword, nodded, said: 'That, too, is for Dragosani - for the vampire in him.'
Then he opened a Mobius door, and guiding his two sere companions stepped through it.
Inside the Chateau Bronnitsy it had been all hell let loose almost from the beginning. The place had been built two hundred and thirty years ago on an ancient battlefield; the building itself was a mausoleum for a dozen of the fiercest of all the Tartar warriors. And its protection had kept the peaty ground pliant, so that the bodies which had lain there were more truly mummies than fleshless corpses.
Also, Dragosani had ordered the great stone flags in the cellars lifted and floorboards ripped out in his search for signs of sabotage; and so, at Harry Keogh's first call, there had been little to deter these re-animated Tartars as they'd struggled up from their centuried graves to answer his command and prowl the Chateau's corridors, laboratories and conservatories. And wherever they found ESPers or defenders, they had simply put them down out of hand.
Now all that remained were the fortified machine-gun positions in the Chateau's own walls, which allowed the men within them no egress, no means of escape. The machine-gun posts could only be entered from within the Chateau; there were no exterior doors, no way out. The voice of one such call-sign trapped in his fortified position told Dragosani the entire story in every gory detail where he raged and frothed in his tower control room:
'Comrade, this is madness, madness!' the voice moaned over Dragosani's control radio, blocking all other traffic -if any remained to be blocked! 'They are... zombies, dead men! And how may we kill dead men? They come -and my gunner cuts them down and shoots them to pieces - and then the pieces come! Outside, a pile of pieces wriggles and kicks and builds itself into a wall against the wall of the Chateau. Trunks, legs, arms, hands - even the smaller pieces and the naked bones themselves! Soon they will pour in through the gun slits, and what then?'
Dragosani snarled, more animal now than ever, and shook his fists at the night and the drifting snow beyond the tower's windows. 'Keogh!' he raged. 'I know you're there, Keogh. So come if you're coming and let's be done with it.'
'They're inside the Chateau, too!' the voice on the radio sobbed. 'We're trapped in here. My gunner is a madman now. He raves even as he works his gun. I've jammed the steel door shut but something continues to batter at it, trying to get in. I know what it is, for I saw it; it stuck a leathery claw inside before I could slam the door on its wrist; now the hand - oh God, the hand! -claws at my legs and tries to climb. I kick it away but it always returns. See, see? Again! Again!' And his voice tapered off into static and a crackling peal of laughter.
Simultaneous with the idiot sounds from the radio, suddenly Yul Galenski cried out in terror from his ante­room office. 'The stairs! They're coming up the stairs!' His voice was shrill as a girl's; he had no experience of fighting; he was a clerk, a secretary. And in any case, who had experience of such as this?
The DO had been standing at the window, white-faced, trembling; but now he snatched up a machine-pistol and rushed through to Galenski where he backed away from the outer door to the landing. On his way he grabbed blast grenades from Dragosani's desk. At least he is a man! thought Dragosani, grudgingly.
Then came the DO's yelp of horror, his cursing, the chatter of his machine-pistol, finally the tearing explosion of grenades where he armed them and dropped them down the stairwell. And coming immediately after the thunder of the explosives, the last message from the unknown call-sign:
'No! No! Mother in heaven! My gunner has shot himself and now they're coming through the gun slits! Hands without arms! Heads without bodies! I think I shall have to follow my gunner, for he is out of all this now. But these... remains! They crawl among the grenades! No -stop that!' There came the distinct ch-ching of a grenade armed, more screaming and gibbering and sounds of chaos, and finally a massive burst of static following which - nothing.
The radio sat and hissed background static at itself. And suddenly the Chateau Bronnitsy seemed very quiet...
It was a quiet which couldn't last. As the DO backed into Galenski's office from the landing, where smoke and cordite stench curled up acridly from below, so Harry Keogh and his Tartar companions emerged from the Mobius continuum. They were there, in the anteroom, as if someone had suddenly switched them on.
The DO heard Galenski's wail of abject terror and disbelief, whirled in a half-circle - and saw what Galenski had seen: a grim, smoke-grimed young man flanked by menacing mummy-things of black leather and gleaming white bone. The sight of them alone - right here, in this room with him - was almost sufficient to freeze him, unman him. But not quite. Life was dear.
Lips drawn back in a rictus of desperation and fear, the DO gurgled something meaningless and swung up his machine-pistol... only to be lifted off his feet and thrown back out onto the landing, his face turning to raw pulp as Harry discharged his last cartridge at point-blank range.
In another moment Harry's companions had turned their attention to Galenski where he gibbered and gro­velled in a corner behind his desk, and Harry had stepped through into what was once Gregor Borowitz's inner sanctum. Dragosani, in the act of hurling the extinct radio from its table, turned and saw him. His great jaws gaped his surprise; pointing an unsteady hand, he hissed like a snake, his red eyes blazing. And for the merest moment the two faced each other.
There had been dramatic changes in both men, but in Dragosani the differences could only be likened to a complete metamorphosis. Harry recognised him, yes, but in any other situation he could hardly have known him. As for Harry himself: little of his former personality or identity remained. He had inherited a great sum of talents and now surely transcended Homo sapiens. Indeed, both men were alien beings, and in that frozen moment as they stared at each other they knew it. Then -
Dragosani saw the shotgun in Harry's hands but couldn't know it was useless. Hissing his hatred and expecting at any moment to hear the weapon's roar, he bounded to Borowitz's great oak desk and fumbled for a machine-pistol. Harry reversed the shotgun, stepped forward and dealt the necromancer a crashing blow to the head and neck where he scrabbled at the desk. Dragosani was knocked flying, the machine-pistol thud­ding to the carpeted floor. He collided with a wall and for a moment stood there spread-eagled, then went into a crouch. And now he saw that the shotgun in Harry's hands was broken where the stock joined the barrels, saw Harry's eyes frantically searching the room for another weapon, saw that he had the advantage and needed no weapon made by men to finish this thing.
Galenski's bubbling screams from the anteroom were suddenly cut off. Harry backed towards the half-open door. Dragosani wasn't about to let him go. He leaped
forward, grabbed him by the shoulder and held him effortlessly with one hand at arm's length.
Hypnotised by the sheer horror of the man's face, Harry found it impossible to look away. He panted for air, felt himself squeezed dry by the awesome power of this creature.
'Aye, pant,' growled Dragosani. 'Pant like a dog, Harry Keogh - and die like a dog!' And he bayed a laugh like nothing Harry had ever heard before.
Still holding his victim, now the necromancer crouched down into himself and his jaws opened wide. Needle teeth dripped slime and something moved in his gaping mouth which wasn't quite a tongue. His nose seemed to flatten to his face and grew ridged, like the convoluted snout of a bat, and one scarlet eye bulged hideously while the other narrowed to a mere slit. Harry stared directly into hell and couldn't look away.
And knowing he'd won, finally Dragosani hurled his bolt of mental horror - at which precise moment the door behind Harry crashed open and threw him from the necromancer's grasp. The door gave him cover where he fell to the floor, while at the same time another stepped creakingly into the room to take the full force of Dragosani's blast. And seeing what had entered, too late Dragosani remembered Max Batu's warning: how one must never curse the dead, for the dead can't die twice!
The bolt was deflected, reflected, turned upon Drago­sani himself. In Batu's story a man had been shrivelled by just such a blast, but in Dragosani's case it wasn't as bad as that - or perhaps it was worse.
He seemed picked up in some giant's fist and hurled across the room. Bones snapped in his legs where they hit the desk, and he was set spinning by his own momen­tum. The wall brought him up short again,, but this time he crumpled to the floor. And clawing himself up into a seated position, he screamed continuously in a voice like a giant's chalk on slate. His broken legs flopped on floor as if they were made of rubber, and he flailed his arms spastically, blindly in the air before his face.
Blindly, yes, for that was where his own mind-blast had struck home: his eyes!
Coming from behind the shielding door Harry saw the necromancer sitting there and gasped. It was as if Dragosani's eyes had exploded from within. Their centres were craters in his face, with threads of crimson gristle hanging down on to his hollow cheeks. Harry knew it was over then and the shock of it all caught up with him. Sickened, he turned away from Dragosani, saw his hench­men waiting.
'Finish it,' he told them. And they creakingly advanced on the stricken monster.
Dragosani was quite blind now, and so too the vampire within him, which had seen with his eyes. But immature though the creature was, still its alien senses were sufficiently developed to recognise the inexorable approach of black, permanent oblivion. It sensed the stake held in the mummied claw, knew that a rusted sword was even now raised high. Ruined shell that he was, Dragosani was no use to the vampire now. And evil spirit that it was, it came out of him as if exorcised!
He stopped screaming, choked, clawed at his throat. Froth and blood flew as his jaws opened impossibly wide and he began to shake his monstrous head frantically to and fro. His entire body was going into convulsions, beginning to vibrate as the pain within grew greater than that of ruptured eyes and broken bones. Any other must surely have died there and then, but Dragosani was no other.
His neck grew fat and his grey face turned crimson, then blue. The vampire withdrew itself from his brain, uncoiled from his inner organs, tore itself loose from nerves and spinal cord. It formed barbs, used them to drag itself head-first up the column of his throat and out of him. Slopping blood and mucus, he coughed the thing endlessly on to his chest. And there it coiled, a great leech, its flat head swaying like that of a cobra, scarlet with the blood of its host.
And there the stake pinned it, passed through the vampire's pulsating body and into Dragosani, driven home by hands that shed small bones even as they secured the horror in its place. And a single stroke from the second Tartar's whistling sword completed the job, strik­ing its flat, loathsome head free from its madly whipping body.
Emptied, tortured, very nearly mindless, Dragosani lay there, his arms flopping. And as Harry Keogh said: 'And now finish him,' so the necromancer's twitching hand found the machine-pistol where it had fallen to the carpeted floor. Somewhere in his burning brain he had recognised Keogh's voice, and even knowing he was dying, still his evil and vengeful nature surfaced one last time. Yes, he was going - but he would not go alone. The weapon in his crab-like hands coughed once, stutt­ered briefly, then chattered a continuous stream of mech­anical obscenities until its vocabulary and magazine were empty - which was perhaps half a second after an ancient Tartar sword had split Dragosani's monstrous skull open from ear to ear.
Pain! Searing pain. And death. For both of them.
Almost cut in half, Harry found a Mobius door and toppled through it. But pointless to take his shattered body with him. That was finished now. Mind was all. And as he entered the Mobius continuum, so he reached out and guided, dragged the necromancer's mind with him. Now the pain was finished, for both of them, and Dragosani's first thought was: 'Where am I?'
'Where I want you,' Harry told him. He found the door to past-time and opened it. From Dragosani's mind a thin red light streamed out amidst the blue brilliance. It was the trail of his vampire-ridden past. 'Follow that,' said Harry, expelling Dragosani through the door. Falling into the past, Dragosani clung to his past-life thread and was drawn back, back. And he couldn't leave that scarlet thread even if he wanted to, for it was him.
Harry watched the scarlet thread winding back on itself, taking Dragosani with it, then searched out and found the door to the future. Somewhere out there his broken life-thread continued, began again. All he had to do was find it.
And so he hurled himself into the blue infinity of tomorrow ...
Alec Kyle glanced at his watch. It was 4:15 p.m. and he was already fifteen minutes late for his all-important governmental board. But time, however relative, had flown and Kyle felt desiccated; the papers in front of him had grown to a thick sheaf; his whole body was cramped and the muscles in his right hand, wrist and arm felt tied in knots. He couldn't write another word.
"I've missed the board,' he said, and hardly recognised his own voice. The words came out in a dry croak. He tried to laugh and managed a cough. 'Also, I think I'm missing a couple of pounds! I haven't moved from this chair in over seven hours, but it's been the best day's exercise I've had in years. My suit feels loose on me. And dirty!'
The spectre nodded. 'I know,' he said, 'and I'm sorry. I've taxed your mind and body both. But don't you think it was worth it?'
'Worth it?' Kyle laughed again, and this time made it. 'The Soviet E-Branch is destroyed -'
'Will be,' the other corrected him, 'a week from now.'
' - and you ask if it's been worth it? Oh, yes!' Then his face fell. 'But I've missed the board. That was important.'
'Not really,' the spectre told him. 'Anyway, you didn't miss it. Or rather, you did but I didn't.'
Kyle frowned, shook his head. 'I don't understand.'
Time -' the other began.
' - Is relative!' Kyle finished it for him in a gasp.
The spectre smiled. 'There's a door to all times out there on the Mobius strip. I am here - but I'm also there. They might have given you a hard time, but not me. Gormley's work - your work, and mine - goes on. You'll get all the help you need and no hassle.'
Kyle slowly closed his mouth, let his brain reel for a moment until it steadied itself. He felt weary now, worn out. 'I expect you'll want to be going now,' he said, 'but there are still a couple of things I'd like to ask you. I mean, I know who you are, for you couldn't be anyone else, but -'
'Well, where are you now? I mean, your now? What's your base? Where is it? Are you speaking to me from the Mobius continuum, or through it? Harry, where are you?'
Again the spectre's patient smile. 'Ask instead, "who are you?'" he said. And answered: 'I'm still Harry Keogh. Harry Keogh Junior.'
Kyle's mouth once more fell open. It was all there in his notes but it hadn't jelled, until now. Now the pieces fell into place. 'But Brenda - I mean, your wife - was due to die. Her death has been foretold. And how can anyone change or avoid the future? You yourself have shown how that's impossible.'
Harry nodded. 'She will die,' he said. 'Briefly, in childbirth, she'll die - but the dead won't accept her.'
'The dead won't - ?' Kyle was lost.
'Death is a place beyond the body,' said Harry. 'The dead have their own existence. Some of them knew it but most didn't. Now they do. It will change nothing in the world of the living, but it means a lot to the dead. Also, they understand that life is precious. They know because they've lost it. If Brenda dies, my life, too, will be in jeopardy. That's something they can't allow. They owe . me, you see?'
They won't accept her? You mean they'll give her life back to her?'
'In a nutshell, yes. There are brilliant talents there in the netherworld, Alec, a billion of them. There's not much they can't do if they really want to. As for my own epitaph: that was just my mother being over-protective -and pessimistic!' His outline began to shimmer and the light from the windows seemed to glance more readily through him. 'And now I think it's time I -'
'Wait!' said Kyle, starting to his feet. 'Wait, please. Just one more thing.'
Harry raised ghostly eyebrows. 'But I thought I'd explained it all. And even if I haven't, I'm sure you'll work it out.'
Kyle quickly nodded his agreement. 'I'm sure I will -1 think. All except why. Why did you bother to come back and tell me?'
'Simple,' said Harry. 'My son will be me. But he will have his own personality, he will be his own being. I don't know how much of the real me will get through to him, that's all. There might be times when he, we, need reminding. One thing's certain, though: he'll be a very talented boy!'
And at last Kyle understood. 'You want me - us, the branch - to sort of look after him, is that it?'
'That's it,' said Harry Keogh, beginning to fade away, shimmering now with a strange blue light, as though
composed of a million fibre-thin neons. 'You'll look after him - until he's ready to start looking after you. All of you. Do you think you can do that?'
Kyle stumbled out from behind his desk, held out his arms to the shimmering, rapidly diminishing spectral thing. 'Oh, yes! Yes, we can do that!'
'That's all I ask,' said Harry. 'And also that you look after his mother.'
The blue shimmer became a haze, snapped into a single vertical line or tube of electric blue light, shortened to a single point of blinding blue fire at eye-level - and blinked out. And Kyle knew that Keogh had gone to be born.
'We'll do it, Harry!' he shouted hoarsely, feeling tears hot on his cheeks and not knowing why he cried. 'We'll do it... Harry?'
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